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Scam 2003 The Telgi Story review: Show lacks the daring of Gagan Dev Riar’s performance as Telgi

Scam 2003: The Telgi Story review: The first five episodes of the second installment in the Scam franchise focus on the rise of Abdul Karim Telgi.

The iconic title track appears once again in the beginning of Scam 2003: The Telgi Story, the second installment to the Scam franchise. Dazzling as it is, the prelude inherently puts an added weight on the series that is now helmed by Tushar Hiranandani. Part 1, with the first five episodes, is mounted securely on the rise of this uncommonly intelligent man from rags to riches. It works, in fits and stretches, largely due to the focused performance of Gagan Dev Riar as Telgi. (Also read: September upcoming web series: Scam 2003, Bambai Meri Jaan, The Morning Show to The Freelancer)

The premise

Expect no flashy flamboyance of Harshad Mehta, this is a different beast altogether – Abdul Karim Telgi remains low and mostly understated in his whereabouts, keenly aware of the pitfalls of becoming visible to the seething world around him. We first meet Abdul Telgi on a train, selling fruits wrapped in the photocopy of his B.Com degree certificate. The focused exaggeration in his dialogues- ‘daring toh karna padega darling’ for one, catches the attention of a well wisher, and he finds himself in Bombay where he helps in building the revenue of a local guest house. In fast stretches, we are given information of how Abdul falls in love with the owner’s daughter, marries her, and then goes to Saudi for a couple of years. It is when he returns to India, that Telgi’s story really sets off.

What works

Based on Sanjay Singh’s book ‘Telgi Scam : Reporter’s Ki Diary’, and working with a screenplay by Karan Vyas, Kiran Yadnyopavit, and Kedar Patankar, the attention shifts squarely on how Telgi fixes his attention on stamp papers. The earlier scenes detail how the stamp papers are made and transported to different corners of the country. The plan is to get on the moving train, break the lock and transfer fake stamp papers in place of the real ones in just 6 minutes. Once the plan works, Telgi wants to run a bigger amount- working with corporate companies and getting an official license. From hereon, the risks begin to emerge.

The central thematic concerns of these classic underdog stories revolve around ambition and greed, but also in the ever-too-widening chasm between the haves and the have-nots; with capitalistic desire taking control. Scam 1992 worked tremendously because it showed, frame after frame, how Harshad Mehta was not chasing the idea of becoming rich, but the ability to hold power. Here in Scam 2003, however, that context arrives in momentary stretches. The focus of the screenplay takes too long to chart the ways in which Telgi operates. The framing of certain sequences too, lack much-needed depth and attention. Case for instance is an extended sequence where Telgi meets a politician and offers him a bouquet filled with money. Then they start to converse in the open, surrounded by masked men dancing in the background. The entire transitionary assemblage of words here feel hollow due to the framework of the scene- needlessly kept at a certain remove and unfocused.

Gagan Dev Riar’s performance

As fascinating it is to observe the integrity with which the overlapping supporting characters and their ropes in the central story emerge, here the much-needed groundwork is unfortunately absent. Even the voiceover by Telgi feels rushed and disproportionately adjusted to spoon-feed viewers at points. We see Telgi only through one angle, which is a bubble that bursts soon enough due to its central performance by Gagan Dev Riar. The restless energy he infuses to the character is certainly missing in the screenplay. The actor is wry and bumbling when needed, and is able to add oodles of carefree confidence to his scenes- always a step ahead of the words he his given. Its a seasoned performance, left unfurnished in the overarching framework of the narrative.

Final thoughts

This also brings us to the decision of the makers to break the series into two parts. With the first five episodes now streaming on SonyLiv, which are reserved strictly on Telgi’s rise, how will the jarring conclusion of ‘To be continued’ add to the reception of a story that makes sense mainly due to its opposite underpinnings of rise and fall? The answer seems to be vehemently misjudged in this scenario. Well, as it goes, only time will tell.

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